Clarion Musings

So, first… my sale. I have sold “No Spaceships Go” to Daily SF, a brand new magazine that will apparently start publishing later this summer/fall. So go subscribe now, because besides my story, it looks like they have lined up some top authors (including fellow PDX writer and Hugo winner David D. Levine).  I’m pretty excited.  More details whenever I get them.

Also, in other internet news, both Clarion and Clarion West have posted instructor lists for 2011.  And wow, they are impressive (okay, when aren’t they? seriously. Sigh).  Clarion list is here.  Clarion West list is here.

As always, I kinda want to go to Clarion (either Clarion) because writing with both my potential classmates and under the tutelage of professionals such as those listed above would be freaking awesome.  I’ve only applied once to Clarion West, and was form rejected.  Which doesn’t shock me, it was my first submission to anywhere, ever. (Feb 4th 2009, for those of us ie me keeping track).  And frankly, I mostly applied because I really wanted to meet Elizabeth Bear whose work and work ethic I super admire.  Probably good I didn’t get in, since I don’t know how I would have survived.

I almost applied to Clarion last year, but decided I couldn’t afford it and took a couple of Dean Wesley Smith’s workshops instead (which, for the sake of honesty, I almost didn’t get in to.  While there’s no formal audition like for the Clarions, Dean isn’t a guy who pulls his punches and if he thinks someone isn’t ready, he’ll say so.  I’m not sure I was ready, but I am grateful. *grin*).  And between discovering those workshops, reading Dean’s motivation posts (and Kristine Rusch’s posts on freelancing), and deciding to truly follow Heinlein’s Rules for Writers, I pretty much completely revolutionized how I was going about getting to my goal of making a living at writing fiction.

So… Clarions.  Should I apply? On the one hand, I imagine I’d have a blast and learn a ton.  On the other, can I get in? Or afford to go if I did? And, strangely enough, can I afford to take 6 weeks out of my writing schedule to focus on workshop stuffs?  I know they write a story a week at the workshops, but frankly, for me, that’s really not an issue, even with additional work like reading on top of it I’m pretty sure I could keep that pace without blinking.  But could I keep up my novel/novella/shorts schedule during Clarion/CW if I got in?

I don’t know. I don’t actually write nearly as well, especially on longer works, when I don’t have the comfort and stability of my home schedule and daily routines.  I can make myself get some work done, but not with the focus I have at home.  And I’m sure that between hanging out with fellow writers, doing the workshop stuffs, and the various functions and parties etc… I’d be pretty socially drained and low energy, which is not a productive state for me.

So if a) I did get in and b) could afford to go, then the question I’d have to consider would be is it worth losing potentially an entire novel’s worth of writing production?  I realize I’d come out of the workshop with six short stories, though as to publishable state I can’t say.  I hope that if I went I’d be really pushing myself in terms of how I’m writing and what I’m writing about, which might render whatever I write as a do-over, but workshops should be about risk in my opinion.  No point going to learn something and not really pushing yourself to stretch out of comfort zones.

So yeah, that’s basically what’s going on in my head now.  The line-ups for teachers looks very awesome, but between money and time lost, I just don’t know if the workshop would be worth it at this point.

Things to think about.  Fortunately, I have time.  I probably won’t make final decision until Feb 2011.  By then, if I’m remotely on target, I’ll have five novels being shopped to trad. publishers, book one of my e-book series out, and at least 40 shorts circulating (unless editors buy more/all of them..nudge nudge universe).  So I’ll see where I’m at.

Anyone else thinking about applying? Anyone who reads this been to one of the Clarions? What were your experiences?

(And, of course, there is always Odyssey as well, which I’ve heard lovely things about from both the woman who runs it and writers who have attended.  So much to consider. Meep.)

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15 thoughts on “Clarion Musings

  1. Yes. It would be worth it.

    Even if you normally put out a novel a week, and write nothing during Clarion, it is still worth it. There is a lot to be said for having a high volume of output, but most professional writers don’t write a novel every six weeks, or a short story a week, so there’s no reason to feel you’re putting the progress of your career on hold if your output slows during that period of time.

    In fact, it might be good for you to take a breather from all that writing and focus for a while on analyzing others’ prose, absorbing tales from the field, forming friendships with professional (and soon-to-be professional) writers. All of that is important in ways you can’t imagine. It doesn’t matter how much you write if no one wants to read it, and the SF&F community is very much a tribe. Once you have people who are willing to support you and give you targeted feedback, you can go the same distance with a lot less output. (But by all means keep writing that much afterward if you can. I can’t, and never could.)

    How important is Clarion? Well… a few weeks after I found out I’d gotten into Clarion, I found out I was pregnant. That was reason enough to say no to six weeks of sleep deprivation, terrible food, and unrelenting emotional stress. What could be more important than nurturing a new life? But I went anyway, and I’m not sorry. In fact, I’m glad I didn’t let myself use my daughter as an excuse, because if not for Clarion I wouldn’t have as much to offer her. Clarion doesn’t just change your writing; it changes your life (if you let it).

    One caveat, though: do NOT go if you don’t intend to throw yourself wholeheartedly on its mercy. If you’re not ready to give your heart to it completely, it is not worth the price of admission or the six weeks it will take from the rest of your life. Those who go and hold back, who keep aloof from their fellow writers, who write what they’re most comfortable writing, who slack off on critiquing their classmates’ work, etc., miss the entire point. If you don’t break down in tears at least once during the workshop, you’re not doing it right.

    Clarion is more than a writing workshop. It’s a crucible. It’s boot camp, it’s a reality show, it’s an audition, it’s speed dating, it’s four semesters of college squished into a summer. There is absolutely nothing in the world like it (well, except maybe Clarion West). In some other genres, perhaps having a “clan” is not that important, but in SF&F, I really believe you need a family. Your clarion Class will be that family, and will give you the confidence to become part of the greater tribe.

    • Mishell- thanks for sharing your experience, it’s good to hear other people’s thoughts. I wasn’t trying to say that I don’t think Clarion is good or would be worth it, I’m just trying to decide if it is what I need at this point in my writing life (or really, at a year from now in my writing life, which is, admittedly, a tough thing to say either way). I just don’t know, but I figured I’d start thinking about it now so that when Feb comes I can make whatever is the best decision for me.
      Believe me, if I decide to apply to either Clarion and got in, I would go and give my all, that’s not even the question. The question is whether or not my “all” would be useful due to the circumstances.

      And though I know you don’t mean to be insulting, I will point out two things. One, I am already a part of multiple writing communities, including a couple small, private critique/writing exchange circles, and many of the writers I interact with are professionals in the SF/F community already. Not that I would mind making more contacts/friends, but I do have some already. I also read a crap load of work, much speculative, plenty outside the SF/F genre.
      Two, I don’t want to just write SF/F. My current novel is a thriller, for example.
      Three, for my goals, I can’t really “take a breather” from writing. Doing so seems counter-productive and silly (again, to me, for my goals. I realize and have stated in earlier posts that not everyone needs to or wants to write at my pace). I can (and do) read, learn, and make friends WHILE practicing my craft. No way will I ever stop writing, because writing is the best way to learn.

      Thank you again for posting, definitely given me some things to think about :) I imagine this will be a question with a lot of sides for and against going around in my brain for the next six months or so.

  2. I know, in accord with my own personal goals, I would absolutely go to Clarion given the opportunity. I’d go tomorrow, were it possible — but of course I’ve got a couple years to wait before I’ll have the time, the resources, and most importantly, the skills.

    I wouldn’t worry about breaking routine if it means ascending to a higher level of personal skill, comfort, and confidence — and meeting more than a handful of people who, as Mishell said, might prove to be invaluable allies, or even family, for the rest of your writing career.

    I have no basis for this belief, but I imagine just the word ‘Clarion Graduate’ on a cover letter would get your story to stand out far above the rest of the slushpile.

    Good luck, whatever you decide.

    • Oh, I have no doubt, Alex, that Clarion Graduate on a cover letter (for short fiction in the SF/F world at least) goes a long way. (Same as WotF winner :) )

      However, Clarion or WotF aren’t the ONLY way to get published (I’ve been doing pretty good so far without any credits). And frankly, wanting a credit on my cover letter would be the least of the reasons for going, for me. If I do apply and get in, I’d go more for the experience, what I’d potentially learn, and the friends I might make more than something that might be on my cover letter (and after a few more professional sales, would probably drop off my cover letter).

      • Yes, definitely agree. Skill at the craft is really the ultimate asset in any competitive field. The extra in-person networking, the prestige, et cetera, would mean little in comparison to being transformed from a good writer into a great one.

        The money/time investment is certainly the greatest ‘obstacle’ to consider when it comes to something like this. I guess it’s really a matter of knowing, from your gut instinct/feelings, whether it’s the right time for such an intense experience.

        I know I’m at least a couple years off from being ‘ready,’ but I can’t speak for you — other than to say you’re obviously far more suited to the task than I.

        Applying certainly seems like an exciting process, but the application fee was something I hadn’t realized existed. Fifty dollars _is_ quite a lot of money.

  3. I come across your post with no knowledge of your background; all of the above is based solely on my personal perspective as someone who was isolated pre-Clarion. It was just an attempt to express how valuable it was to me; obviously I can’t speak for anyone else.

    Any vehemence in my choice of words was meant to express my fanatic enthusiasm for Clarion – with which I’m familiar – rather than any disdain for you – with whom I’m not.

    • I recognize that, Mishell, I just figured I’d clarify my position since it did seem you were misreading my post/intentions. :)
      Congrats on your BCS sale, btw. (And the baby).

  4. Congrats on the sale, look forward to being able to read it!

    I don’t have much to say about you going to Clarion, but I will offer this. You should just apply. If you don’t get in the point is moot. If you do, then you can think about if going is the right thing to do and analyze that choice then. But seriously, just apply first and see what happens.

    • A.R., I would do exactly that (and still might…) but for one tiny thing that at this point in my life isn’t very tiny- non-refundable application fees.
      Clarion’s is 50, Clarion West’s is 30 (I think it is, it was a couple years ago). That’s 80 bucks, which isn’t chump change to me at this point in my life. If I’m going to try to get in and spend the 80 to do it, I definitely want to be sure I can commit to going or I’ve just wasted nearly 100 dollars (ie, groceries for almost a month etc).
      So I do still need to think about it. Because it is a big investment in both time and money.

  5. I tried to get into Clarion this summer, even though it would have been hugely difficult due to my regular job. Besides the awesomeness of exploding my brain with new learning, I would have gotten a week with my favorite author George RR Martin.

    *sigh*
    :)

    So instead I’ll have to detonate mini-explosions in the form of smaller workshops like Dean’s and self-study. Probably for the best, as finding a way off work for six-weeks would have been difficult. I’d still love to do Clarion some day if I can though.

    • Yeah, Dean’s workshops are (I imagine) very very different from how Clarion would be. For one, I don’t think we’ll ever see Dean doing a round-robin style critique of manuscripts. His stuff is far more focused on the business side, though the craft workshops are also intense (I’m really looking forward to the Character Voice one). One of Dean’s workshops is where we had to do a story in 24 hours (and read and think about though not comment on everyone else’s stories- about 30ish of them). The workshops there are intense, but good, and most of the people are working professional writers (I think I’ve generally been the least sold person usually).

  6. Yikes. Well then I’m sure I’ll be the least experienced writer at the novel workshop in October then. On the good side, I’ll have the most room to learn while I’m there. :)

    • you’ll do fine. Think how many people start and then never even finish a novel, much less get up the gumption to send it out properly :) You’re way ahead.

  7. Apply. Always apply. If you’re not ready, they’ll see it and won’t accept you. But if you ARE ready.. then you’ll figure out the rest. As for the novel writing.. wouldn’t rather go and learn something, and come out of the workshop being able to write a better novel?

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